Answers to “Dubia” from the Vatican! About the Traditional Mass and overly restrictive bishops.

012_SolemnMass_2Epiphany_2017_SMPB (1)If you are a priest who has been hassled by your bishop about saying the traditional Mass with the 1962 Missale Romanum, pay attention.  Help has arrived.

Recently a priest of my acquaintance sent two questions to my old haunts the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”.  Here are the priest’s questions with the answers from the PCED following the answers.  The original response follows, below.

1. Do the provisions of Summorum Pontificum permit an ordinary to require that all priests first obtain his permission to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, or do the provision of the motu proprio itself grant such permission?

Ad primum: as to the first part: negative ; as to the second part: affirmative.  It should however be clear that it pertains to the Local Ordinary to ensure that the priest is idoneus as required by Art5§4 of the Motu Proprio.

2. Do the provisions of Summorum Pontificum require a pastor (parochus) to obtain the permission of his ordinary to have the Extraordinary Form of the Mass said in his parish, or is the pastor obligated only to consult his ordinary?

Ad secundum: in a case such as those referred to under Art. 5§1 of the Motu Proprio, the Pastor should inform the Local Ordinary, insofar as the latter, as Moderator of the liturgical life in the Diocese (Can. 835 §1), is competent to verify the existence of the coetus fidelium and the availability of a qualified priest ; in the case of occasional celebrations, Art. 5 §3 of the Motu Proprio is to be applied.

To review:

1 a) Under Summorum Pontificum a priest does NOT need the permission of a local ordinary (read in effect: the diocesan bishop – there are more than one type of “ordinary”) to use the 1962MR.

1 b) The Local Ordinary, however, can determine of the priest is “idoneus“.

2) Pastors do not need permission of the bishop to have regularly scheduled Masses with the 1962MR at the parish.  The Bishop can still make determinations about whether or not there is a coetus and if there is a qualified (idoneus, I suppose) priest available.  Otherwise, for occasional Masses the pastor is pretty much in charge.

We have to look at two issues here.  What is “idoneus” (“fit for, suitable, apt, capable”) and what is a “coetus” (“an assemblage, group, meeting together”).  In years past I have been over this ground thoroughly.  Here are some pointers.

First and foremost, idoneus means a minimum capability.  It does not mean “expertise”.  Remember that the Church’s law must be interpreted in the most favorable way when it comes to people’s rights (favorabilia ampliantur).  Summorum Pontificum establishes that, if priest has faculties to say Mass at all, he therefore automatically has the faculty also to use the 1962 Missale Romanum.  If he has faculties he must be assumed to be idoneus and also not impeded.  He is capable of celebration Mass with the Roman Rite in either use. That is the juridical point of view.  But we know that the practical view is a little different.  It is reasonable that a priest should know the language he is going to use for Mass.  His Eminence Edward Card. Egan of New York, who was a well-known canonist, said for his Archdiocese when Summorum Pontificum came out in his policy statement:

II. Priests who choose to celebrate Mass in the “extraordinary” form must have a sufficient knowledge of the Latin language to pronounce the words correctly.

Card. Egan was correct.  The priest does not have to be an expert Latinist.  That is what idoneus is all about: it is minimum qualification (faculties, etc.), not expertise in the Latin language. Idoneus cannot be interpreted so widely as to restrict a priest’s rights unreasonably.  To impose a Latin test for the older form of Mass would be a supreme injustice without also imposing a test of every priest of the diocese for the newer form.  It would be a hypocritical, punitive double-standard not also to test every priest who says Mass in, say, Spanish, not to mention what the GIRM and rubrics of the Novus Ordo really say and then confirm that the priest sticks to them.

Do we want priests to be able to do more than say the words properly?  Sure.  Remember that the 1983 Canon Law states that seminarians should be very well trained in Latin (can 249).  Thus, if the bishop doesn’t insist that his seminarians get some Latin, he is being negligent, and when someone stands up to say publically that the seminarians are properly formed, they aren’t exactly telling the truth.  The same can be said for the emphasis on the work of St. Thomas Aquinas stressed in canon law, as well as knowedge of the whole of the Roman Rite, which includes the TLM.  But I digress.

As far as a “stable group”, a coetus, is concerned, Summorum Pontificum indicates:

Art. 5, § 1. In parishes, where there is stably present a group of the faithful attached to the previous liturgical tradition, let the pastor willingly receive their petitions that Mass be celebrated according to the Rite of the Missale Romanum issued in 1962. …

The usual liberal common-sense defying questions arose about how big the group had to be and whether or not they had to be registered in the parish in question, blah blah blah.  Those questions were clearly answered.  The Instruction about Summorum Pontificum called Universae Ecclesiae:

15. A coetus fidelium (“group of the faithful”) can be said to be stabiliter existens (“existing in a stable manner”), according to the sense of art. 5 § 1 of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, when it is constituted by some people of an individual parish who, even after the publication of the Motu Proprio, come together by reason of their veneration for the Liturgy in the Usus Antiquior, and who ask that it might be celebrated in the parish church or in an oratory or chapel; such a coetus (“group”) can also be composed of persons coming from different parishes or dioceses, who gather together in a specific parish church or in an oratory or chapel for this purpose.

The law on this says “some people”.  There is no minimum number identified by the Holy See.   Some have mentioned that a coetus in other contexts can be as few a three.  And the priest himself can be a part of the coetus!  It is, therefore, wrong to try to impose a minimum number.  For example, Bp. Fatty McButterpants of the Diocese of Libville writes to Fr. Joe Wlotrzewiszczykowycki, who tried to get something good going at his parish, St. Christine the Astonishing, for the many refugees from Fr. Bruce Hugalot’s Sing A New Faith Community Into Being Faith Community: “There must be at least 100 people!  They must live in the parish boundaries!  And you have to be able to write an essay in the Latin style of Tacitus about why you want to do this!”  No.  Fatty is acting ultra vires.  Also, the people in the group do NOT have to be from the same parish, either as registrants or territorial residents. They don’t even have to be from the same diocese.  They just have be coming around regularly for the purpose of attending Mass.  As it turns out, however, Bp. McButterpants will wind up crucifying Fr. Wlotrzewiszczykowycki in a thousand other ways, which prompts him to flee to Bp. Noble in the nearby Diocese of Black Duck with the help of Msgr. Zuhlsdorf at St. Ipsidipsy in Tall Tree Circle.

The Response:


I hope this helps.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Frank H says:

    So THAT’s how dubia work!

    [Amazing, no? The priest sent the dubia on 20 January 2017, less than one month ago. The Commission responded in 11 days, on 31 January. Even with the lousy snail-mail postal speed, he received the responses pretty quickly.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  2. Patrick says:

    Does this mean that, where a priest is willing be deficient in the Latin language skills, the ordinary is obliged to provide for his instruction?

  3. Patrick says:

    *but deficient

  4. iamlucky13 says:

    @ Patrick, as Father Z pointed out, Canon 249 obliges the bishop to ensure the priest’s education in Latin in seminary.

    Of course, further education when beneficial seems like a pretty straightforward matter of pastoral accompaniment of his priests.

  5. If U.S. dioceses applied the same rigor to the EF that they apply when trying to get Spanish-language Masses, there would be many EF Masses. Same with the rigor applied to foreign-born priests when they are allowed to celebrate Mass in English. An accent is not (and should not be IMO) considered a defect in pronunciation.

  6. olh says:

    Would they respond to a dubia submitted by a layman?

    [They might. We did when I was there. However, I recommend AGAINST sending them on your own and without a lot of help and discussion in preparing them. First, don’t ask questions unless you want an answer. Also, you can cause problems.]

  7. Grateful to be Catholic says:

    This is all lovely, but bishops will be bishops. I know a priest who is not allowed to celebrate the usus antiquior publicly, i.e., posted on the website and in the parish bulletin, but does so privately early every morning, attended by a small but stable and very grateful coetus fidelium. I have no doubt that if he were to go public, as is his right, a thousand chancery bricks would fall on his head in myriad ways. Naturally, the usus antiquior does not flourish in that place.

    I suppose we are reduced to the biological solution, but in present circumstances there is not much hope there. I fear that very few from the Novus Ordo world have sufficient catechesis to survive the coming strife. With the continued practical suppression of the usus antiquior, we must pray to our heavenly Father to do what is impossible for men.

  8. Margaret O says:

    This is a serious question regarding the other ‘Dubia’.
    If someone in a homosexual marriage would like to come back to the sacraments (including Holy Communion) whilst the other person is not willing to abstain from a sexual relationship; and they have acquired a few children along the way by means of surrogacy and adoption, would thus person qualify to be a worthy recipient of the Eucharist, in the eyes of
    Pope Francis and his supporting Cardinals?

  9. Peregrinator says:

    This is actually a bad response as it suggests that the existence of a coetus fidelium is necessary for the regular celebration of the traditional Mass at a parish.

  10. Erik Bootsma says:

    Do dubia such as these addressed to individual priests or bishops get published in the Notitiae in the Acta Apostolica Sedis? Or do they simply publish a few that they prefer to?

    Wondering about writing a dubia regarding the location of the tabernacle, as we have a Deacon here in Virginia who insists it MUST be in a side chapel.

  11. spock says:

    His Excellency Bishop Malloy should learn about this. I’m sure there are other bishops as well.

    Contact info for diocese of Rockford:
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    Mon-Fri: 8:30am – 12pm, 1pm – 4:30pm

  12. Athelstan says:

    I appreciate the efforts of our kind host, who earnestly desires that tradition spread as far and wide and deeply as possible. But while the answers to these dubia are reasonable guidance in the hands of a reasonable bishop, they nonetheless provide sufficient room for an unreasonable bishop to drive a Mack truck through, squashing our priest and the embyronic TLM with it.

    Without any caveats or qualifications the authority of the bishop as outlined here by PCED to “verify the existence of the coetus fidelium and the availability of a qualified priest” and verify that a priest is “idoneus” give all the excuse needed to suppress a proposed regular, public TLM. Granted that unreasonable bishops are likely going to do what they want to do – even in a lawless manner (and there is plenty of lawlessness in the air right now) – if they really mean to; but I very much wish that PCED had fleshed out these answers to put at least some theoretical limits on the episcopal power here.

  13. Giuseppe says:

    Can we finally have all masses (NO and EF) in Latin, ensure all priests can pronounce (with basic word-for-word understanding) the Latin appropriately, and work to ensure that homilies can be written, spoken, read, and/or translated in(to) the languages of the various parish communities?

    Basic Latin, and make sure homilies are GOOD and understandable.

  14. Pingback: Answers to “Dubia” from the Vatican! About the Traditional Mass and overly restrictive bishops. | Fr. Z’s Blog | God & Cheeseburgers

  15. Rev. Paul L. Vasquez says:

    I’m concerned that included in “idoneus” might also be some notion of sufficient training in the older form for proper adherence to the rite. It is not enough to merely pronounce Latin properly. I can pronounce Latin well enough, but do not have sufficient knowledge of the rubrics, praenotanda, etc to actually competently celebrate the rite. It is certainly possible to learn these things, but I haven’t yet and until such time, I would never celebrate it. It doesn’t take a liberal bishop to want the requisite competence. I’m not excusing bishops who use any excuse to restrict the older form, but a conscientious bishop will want this done correctly, not just slip-shod, and might worthily introduce regulations making sure priests unfamiliar with the older form have minimum proficiency. Before 1962, surely bishops had a moral obligation to ensure this as well.

    In Christ,
    Rev. Paul L. Vasquez

  16. Rev. Paul L. Vasquez says: “idoneus” might also be some notion of sufficient training

    Sure. However, this is a point of such common sense that I don’t think it needs to be spelled out. Any priest who has contemplated saying the older, traditional form knows that he is dealing with something much more involved than the usual Novus Ordo celebration. The Novus Ordo, for those men who have attended it for a long time, as seminarians tend to, takes about 5 minutes to learn. Not so the older form, although frequent service at the altar for the traditional form would help a lot, especially if the priest was particularly careful.

    As far as bishops back in the day ensuring that priests knew what to do: in seminaries there were exacting exams by priests of ordinands through “dry Masses”.

    In any event, a priest should want to celebrate Mass properly in either form. That will take more work when it comes to the Extraordinary Form.

    The work is well worth it. I highly recommend it. It’ll change you.

  17. Random Friar says:

    Ecclesiastical Latin, with accents, is incredibly easy to say/sing. Learn a few rules, hear the Mass said/sung a few times, and I think most could be idoneus. My vocabulary is only semi-decent, and I can normally pronounce everything without study.

    Spanish is wonderful for this as well. Even if I have zero idea of what a Spanish word might be, the language is so regular that I can pronounce the word without the slightest clue of its meaning.

  18. Precentrix says:

    Okay, Reverend Fathers,

    So you are worried about your Latin? Get your hands on “A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin” by Collins, and the answer booklet, and work through it. It deals with the language contained in the Ordinary of the Mass (NO). After that, you can probably cope with the rest.

    Assuming that you have some clue about the language, the amazing FSSP training video appears to be online now.

    So… this doesn’t replace proper training, but it’s a very helpful resource.

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